Agatha Christie and her Mysterious Notebooks
Book to be published about Agatha Christie and her style of writing
John Curan is writing a book about Agatha Christie, specifically Agatha Christie and her plotting Notebooks. This is probably the last aspect of Agatha Christie that has not already been discussed in a book. We have had books on Agatha's life, Christie's literary output, her husband, Agatha Christie's disappearance; we have bought quiz books, travel books, film books, Mousetrap books; books about her poisons, Agatha Christie's characters, her cover designs, her garden; biographies of Poirot and Miss Marple. Curan's contribution to Christie scholarship has been undertaken with not just the blessing of her grandson, Mathew Prichard, but his active encouragement and practical help. Harper Collins, Agatha Christie’s publishers for most of her working life, showed such instant interest in the book when first suggested. They plan to publish it in September 2009.
As the months pass the official Agatha Christie website will give a few sneak previews into a work-in-progress and a peek into the incomparable literary legacy that is The Notebooks of Agatha Christie.
Die-hard fans have known of the existence of the Agatha Christie Notebooks for some years. Both Janet Morgan and Laura Thompson mentioned them in their biographies on Agatha Christie. And at the time of the publication of the Morgan volume, in 1984, there was a book programme on BBC2 where Agatha discussed the Notebooks; and there were brief shots of them as she spoke outside Greenway House.
Agatha Christie herself mentions them in her Autobiography where she explains that she often had a few of Notebooks at any given time and would write randomly in them; this presented Agatha with the problem of making sense of them at a later stage when she eventually returned to them looking for her bright idea. They were carefully stored by Rosalind Hicks since her mother’s death and now form part of the Christie Archive. Few people, apart from Janet Morgan and Laura Thompson, both official biographers of Agatha Christie, have been granted access to them. When Curan first saw them in November 2005, at the invitation of Mathew Prichard, they were in a cardboard box in a room resembling Aladdin’s Cave upstairs in Greenway House, a room packed with Dame Agatha Christie’s papers, manuscripts, letters, contracts, fan-mail, first editions – and Notebooks.
The book explores the contents of Agatha Christie's 73 recently discovered notebooks, showing how she wrote her ingenious books as well as many alternative versions and unused ideas. Includes illustrations from the notebooks and two unpublished Poirot stories. When Agatha Christie died in 1976, aged 85, she had become the world's most popular author. With sales of more than two billion copies worldwide in more than 100 countries, Christie had achieved the impossible - more than one book every year since the 1920s, every one a bestseller. So prolific was Agatha Christie's output - 66 crime novels, 20 plays, 6 romance books under a pseudonym of Mary Westmacott and over 150 short stories - it was often claimed that Agatha had a photographic memory. Was this true? Or did she resort over those 55 years to more mundane methods of working out her ingenious crimes? Following the death of Agatha's daughter, Rosalind, at the end of 2004, a remarkable secret was revealed. Unearthed among her affairs at the family home of Greenway were Agatha Christie's private notebooks, 73 handwritten volumes of notes, lists and drafts outlining all her plans for her many books, plays and stories. Buried in this treasure trove, all in her unmistakable handwriting, are revelations about Agatha Christie's famous books that will fascinate anyone who has ever read or watched an Agatha Christie story. What is the 'deleted scene' in her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles? How did the infamous twist in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, really come about? Which very famous Poirot novel started life as an adventure for Miss Marple? Which books were designed to have completely different endings, and what were they? What were her unused ideas, and what was the highly unusual novel Dame Agatha planned to write after Postern of Fate (her final published novel)? Full of details she was too modest to reveal in her own Autobiography, this remarkable new book includes a wealth of extracts and pages reproduced directly from the notebooks and her letters.
Agatha Christie said she never knew where the ideas for a new novel would spring from:
“Plots come to me at such odd moments, when I am walking along the street, or examining a hat shop… suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head.”
Christie’s inspiration came from the world she knew. She drew on the military gentlemen, lords and ladies, spinsters, widows and doctors of her family’s circle of friends. A natural observer, Agatha Christie's descriptions of village politics, local rivalries and family jealousies are often painfully accurate. Her grandson, Mathew Prichard, has described her as “a person who listened more than she talked, who saw more than she was seen.”
Historian C.V. Wedgwood wrote of Christie: “Her social settings, her characters and her dialogue are always accurately observed. There is no better all-round craftsman in the field.”
Agatha Christie made notes in dozens of notebooks, jotting down ideas and potential plots and characters as they came to her. Christie spent her time working out all the details and clues in her head before putting pen to paper. Her son-in-law, Anthony Hicks, once said, “You never saw her writing, she never shut herself away, like other writers do.”
In the early days, Christie dictated her works to an assistant who would type up manuscripts for editing – in later years, Christie recorded her thoughts into the precursor of the tape recorder – a Dictabel.
It was often the most everyday events and casual observations which triggered a new plot. Her second book The Secret Adversary stemmed from a conversation overheard in a tea shop. Murder on the Links was prompted by a newspaper article about a suspicious death in France. A theatre trip to see the actress Ruth Draper led her to write Lord Edgware Dies. Agatha Christie's notebooks make fascinating reading and the seeds for several stories are easily identified. In 1963 her notebook held details of a plot in development:
A Caribbean Mystery was published in 1964 with the “Old Frog” the first victim. The Caribbean island is beautifully described and was probably based on St. Lucia, an island Christie had visited on holiday.
Another entry begins, “Miss Marple, train coming from London to Reading? Man strangles a woman. The train was? 3.55, 3.19.” Of course we now know it was the 4:50 From Paddington but many of the hundreds of plots, red herrings and suspects from her fertile imagination never made it to print. As Agatha Christie said:
“Nothing turns out quite in the way that you thought it would when you are sketching out notes for the first chapter, or walking about muttering to yourself and seeing a story unroll.”